Follow The Money!

Brea Matters has been purposefully silent since the new Council was seated. Operation Clean Sweep left many exhausted and in need of a little peace and quiet for a change. Now that Council is settling in… I’ve turned my attention to money matters, our largest and most threatening issues.

debt_400Unfunded Pension Liabilities was a widely used campaign buzzword. Though some attempts have been made to rein in it’s almost exponential rate of growth, Brea remains strangled by debt.

I made a list of financial topics to investigate and my initial inquires uncovered a maze of interrelated issues.

Revenue Over Expense, a smoking gun?

Forever I guess, Brea’s P&L (Profit and Loss) statement has concluded with Revenue Over Expense… which has been treated like free money. Honestly, I’d never noticed it before. I am familiar with the myth of free money however.

Every year, Council and staff announce, with much back patting and fanfare, that a balanced budget has been reached. However, try as I might, I can’t remember ever hearing mention of these leftovers.

Typically, I’m told, this money has been put into FARP (Fixed Asset RePlacement Fund). How much has gone into the fund, how FARP spent the money and how big this Revenue Over Expenses might be is still a mystery. I’ll keep digging, we deserve to better understand how our money is being managed.

Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 dollars.

MrMonoplyAt an upcoming Council meeting (I’ll give you a heads-up) staff will, for the first time, suggest splitting the reallocation of Revenue Over Expenses. The plan, I’m told, would reduce the FARP allocation to 90% and 10% would go to Fund 150.

Also known as the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund, OPEB pays for retired employee medical coverage (previously unfunded) plus current employee premiums. The unfunded debt is $16 million. This is the mystery component not generally mentioned in discussions on Unfunded Pension Liability which is now an additional $70 million. Don’t look for a calculator, that’s $86 million and growing.

Roy Moore, in his independent analysis and public presentation on our Unfunded Pension problem a couple of years ago, did include OPEB in his audit and projections. Sadly, neither Council or staff at the time allowed Roy’s efforts to gain any traction.

Bank error in your favor, collect $200 dollars.

wormsWell, if we can fold OPEB into the mix, what about Unfunded Pension Debt? What about repaying the 560 Fund the $1.4 million borrowed to make solar payments? Could we tap Revenue Over Expense for a little money to put drought tolerant landscaping at the Civic Center?

Opening this can of worms opens a lot of questions. I’m confident Council, especially if they seek answers publicly, where we can wade in with our comments and suggestions, will make the sort of policy changes needed.

Doubling up payments to CalPERS makes perfect sense, why hasn’t this been done already? The 560 Fund should never have been tapped to pay for a solar project that was sold, in part, on the basis that it would pay for itself. Why has there never been an audit of this project, framed in terms that all could easily understand?

Defining, once and for all, the proper use of the 560 Fund, conducting audits of O’Donnell’s Fire Department reorganizations and accurately calculating the ROI on the solar energy project have been systematically kept off calendar and away from public input. Why? What are they trying to hide?

Drought garden planted the seeds of public distrust.

FB_palmtree_300The original drought garden, jammed through at the last minute and without considering public input, was a poorly designed masquerade to avoid spending proper funds on a public works project. The story leaked to the public, objections and outrage could be heard from all sides, the Mayor was counseled to postpone discussion and refused.

Today’s Council has a win-win opportunity to bring the “Rock” Garden back for further discussion. Here’s a chance to reverse a major blunder of it’s predecessors, to be honest with the public and clear the air, once and for all.

First, admit that repairing the leak in the Civic Center parking structure and avoiding spending Building Maintenance funds on it was the real objective. Put a standalone item on the agenda for a Public Works project to fix the leak. Pay for it with the Building Maintenance fund.

Put  a second item on the agenda to put drought tolerant landscape on the effected area once repairs have been completed. Tap MWDOC for their sod removal subsidy and Cal Domestic for the promised grant. That’s $17,500 in the bank. Allocate another $17,500 from Revenue Over Expenses. Boom! The budget is now only $35 thousand dollars, not the quarter million as originally stated. Invite CSUF grad students to do the design.

Please, it’s a business, not a board game.

govt_money_400The City Manager has often characterized himself as the CEO of a large corporation as justification for his salary package — twice that of California’s Governor.

Okay, it’s time to start running this city like a real business instead of a board game.

Start trapping all expenses against all projects and programs. No More soft costs. No more robbing Peter to pay Paul. No more hiding special interest projects by calling them something they’re not.

Every time accounting principles are pushed to their limits the door is opened to slip the difference into Revenue Over Expense.

The ball’s in your court now.

Thanks to Operation Clean Sweep and a voting population interested in rebooting City Council, we now have five Council members with open door policies, offering greater transparency and accountability in government and dedicated to fostering meaningful community engagement. Let’s not waste it.

The time to stand up and be counted is now.

Send your thoughts via email to:

Of course you can always come share your thoughts at Council meetings during Matters From The Audience. Check the Council’s agenda on the city’s website so you know what’s coming up. You’re not limited to commenting only on agenda items. Something bugging you? Speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask Council to pull an item from the Consent Calendar for discussion or to move a discussion item from the Study Session to the formal meeting in Council Chambers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to send positive vibes their way too. Council is a big commitment. It’s hard work. It shouldn’t be a thankless job. We have a winning team now, there’s nothing wrong with showing a little team spirit and cheering them on.

Oh, and in the unlikely event you’re one of those who didn’t vote… never mind.

 

Voters Sweep Brea Clean!

Operation Clean SweepA week ago today, Brea voters and Operation Clean Sweep succeeded in rebooting City Council! Welcome and congratulations to Cecilia Hupp, Steve Vargas and Glenn Parker. Your convincing win confirms that Brea voters, eager to turn around a floundering Council, see something in you they like.

To whom much is given, much is expected. Simply put, privilege brings responsibility and that responsibility entails accountability. Now is the time to set aside personality conflicts and petty grievances. Too many serious issues are tucked into your information packets and need your undivided attention.

Brea Matters (Voters) Wade In.

While waiting for the dust to settle and the provisional votes to be tallied, I invited Brea Matters readers (voters) to tell me how they see the issues stacking up. Thanks to all who took the time to share their thoughts. Here are the top three issues.

Unfunded Pension Liability.

The small contribution now required of new hires, bolstered by similar changes in state regulation, have slowed the rate of debt increase… slightly. The escalation of unfunded debt has neither been reversed nor solved.

The problem is still our largest fiscal nightmare. You will not be able to nudge pension reform into existence. Nothing less than sweeping change, with the full participation of the beneficiaries, will address this issue.

Water, The Currency Of Tomorrow.

The drought is real. This chronic shortage is effecting more than shorelines. It is the catalyst behind Brown’s Measures 1 and 2. The real effects of their passage will likely come as a shock to voters who cast their ballot in favor.

Our tiered water rates, still on the back burner awaiting the San Juan Capistrano decision, will be pulled to the front burner when the state’s budget based water rates enter the discussion. Brea is already giving the state detailed monthly water consumption data.

Once the camel’s head is in the tent it’s ass is soon to follow. The state will insert itself into the water business and it won’t make more water available or lower your rates.

With Silver Bells And Cockle Shells.

On a semi-related note, the drought tolerant demonstration garden rushed to approval a few weeks ago enjoys zero public support. None. Nada.

Beyond a small consulting contract, no other handcuffs exist. No RFQ has been drafted or circulated. No bids have been submitted, reviewed or approved.

Put the garden back on the agenda. Recognize it for what it is, a boondoggle. A complete waste of a quarter million dollars. Reverse the original decision. Terminate the project. Fix the leak in the subterranean parking using the Building Maintenance Fund.

Fracking, A Black Hole Of Deception.

The most significant missing component in fracking’s risk/reward equation is truth.

Truth about water, how it is combined with which chemicals or acids, where it comes from in the first place, how it is handled during the process and where it goes when disposed of. Truth about noxious fumes. How much methane and other hazardous gases are really escaping from wells, how far might they travel in the air, what are the risks of exposure or inhalation?

Truth about potential failure of equipment or of human error. Truth in documentation, willingness to be subject to regulation, oversight and enforcement of noncompliance or infraction.

Council may be comfortable, for whatever reasons, peeking through the wool pulled over their eyes… but a significant number of Breans do not share their complacency. They’ve read about thousands of incidents, from unfortunate to catastrophic, where people’s health and safety was put at risk, where the environment was put at risk, where seismic concerns grew exponentially over just a few years.

What we don’t know could kill us. That is not Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling!” That is not some conspiracy theorist’s attempt at scare tactics. That is the unvarnished truth. Until we know more, until oil companies are more forthcoming, until regulatory agencies are able to oversee the industry without having their hands tied by state and federal intervention… the smart thing to do is put a moratorium in place.

A Laundry List Continually Overlooked.

These “lesser” more procedural issues will sound familiar. Why? Because they’ve been at the center of campaign promises, half-hearted studies by overpaid consultants and counterfeit community conversations for years. They are in no particular order.

  • Inattention to public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Disregard of public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Growing abandonment of meaningful public hearings.
  • General lack of transparency and accountability.
  • Too much business conducted in study session.
  • Too many items buried on the Consent Calendar.
  • Failure to faithfully implement Measure T.
  • Runaway senior staff salaries and the ten city survey.
  • Satisfactory resolution of former RDA projects.
  • Consistent and equitable support of the business community.
  • Traffic congestion.
  • Open discussion of possible public safety JPA’s.
  • Declining senior services.
  • Street sweeping citations.
  • Decline of Lagos de Moreno Park.

A Show Of Good Faith.

Pass an ordinance limiting political/campaign signage to a maximum of 500 square inches and a display period, on public and private property, no more than 90 days prior to the election. Pass a resolution limiting campaign expenditures to no more than $10,000, campaign mailing pieces to no more than two. Pass a resolution limiting Council seats to no more than two terms.

Do the right thing. Without your honorable preemptive resolution of these issues, please believe that the public is willing and able to gather the necessary signatures and put them on the ballot.

In Conclusion…

Arguably the most disconnected, delusional, Council member in recent history was held accountable for his lack of performance and overwhelmingly denied reelection to a second term.

Members of Council, this is meant as a reminder, not a threat. Brea voters have extended to Council members, new and old, the privilege of representing their best interests. Expect to be held accountable.